Pig to Man and Man to Pig Again: The Intersection of “Skepticism” and Fundamentalism

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm

Mostly, I just weep for humanity and swear at the computer screen. But I must confess to a small sense of schadenfreude when I see “skeptics” being close-minded, gullible chumps. It’s the irony. Their entire self-proclaimed identity revolves around reason, critical thinking, and science, and then they give the most entrenched fundamentalists a run for their money as they poo-poo those things to adhere to their beliefs. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the reaction of so-called “skeptics” to the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood (PP) representatives released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

Regardless of the ethical problems in obtaining the videos (I’ll leave that to others to continue to debate), these videos and transcripts are out, and we have to face them. And they’re to greater or lesser degrees damning, disturbing, disgusting— lots of “d” words— but the skeptics are blindly latching onto only one: dubious.

When I first became aware that Rational Catholic Blog had been quoted in the Daily Beast and Science Blogs regarding our assessments of Dr. Deisher’s work, it seemed reasonable as we were a Catholic voice calling out that malarkey. But, then, it immediately turned to, “Wait, what? How is this relevant? Pssh, ‘skeptics’ indeed!”

Let’s look at the opposite side of the anti-critical-thinking coin, where philosophical loyalties and political expedience trump science, reason, and critical thinking.
Irony everywhere

“Who is Daniel Daleiden?” Who cares?!

One of the most inane defenses of Planned Parenthood coming from the “skeptics” is nothing more than a conglomeration of logical fallacies that attempt to deflect from the accusations against Planned Parenthood by focusing on Daniel Daleiden, the man behind the Center for Medical Progress, which made and released these videos. That would be bad enough as an obvious ad hominem-style attack, but they take it a step further. They’ve turned to focusing on the people he has associated with in the pro-life movement, such as the anti-vaccine Dr. Theresa Deisher. By lumping him in with that lot, the fallacious argument goes, anything that might be released should be swiftly ignored and reviled, regardless of its merit.

Now, I obviously acknowledge that Dr. Deisher has a somewhat hostile relationship with scientific scholarship and the truth in general. She was quoted in the NCR as saying that it “is not legal to sell to them, and she [Nucatola] did say sell in the video.” Well, I went through the macabre sojourn of reading the 168 pages of transcripts and watching the videos. Dr. Nucatola never uses the word “sell” outside of what the “buyers” can do to “sell” themselves to a potential partnering clinic or what Planned Parenthood does not want to appear to be doing. So, yes, Dr. Deisher is, at minimum, incredibly lacking in thoroughness. CTRL-F is not scholarship, after all.

But so what? It is totally irrelevant.

As Kirsten Powers wrote, “When Mitt Romney was caught by ‘secret video’ making his 47% remarks, the means of attaining the information was not the focus of the story.” Skeptics rightly point out how ridiculous it is when pseudoscience advocates play the guilt by association game. They chortled right along with me when Debi Vinnedge said I was “non-credible” because I’m involved with Voices for Vaccines (as in I let them publish my pro-vaccine conversion story… once). Because Stanley Plotkin supports VFV, and he has some Midas touch that turns everything and everyone into pure abortion-sullied evil… or something. Skeptics mock those who cry “Ties to Big Pharma!” and “Aaaah, Monsanto!” in a desperate attempt to ignore evidence and argument. And yet, here they are crying “Ties to anti-vaxxers!” and “Aaah, Theresa Deisher!”

Glug, glug, glug…
koolaid
Of course, it makes for something to write about if you’ve uncritically drunk the Kool-aid of Planned Parenthood’s talking points. And it’s quite obvious that the “skeptics” have.

“This is obviously a made up, ridiculous accusation,” says “Skepchick”, Rebecca Watson. Obviously. Have you ever noticed how acolytes of pseudoscience use the same talking points regardless of whether they logically follow to enhance their argument? How they never take a skeptical look at their canned arguments?

Orac and Watson say:

• Even though abortion services make up only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activity… Planned Parenthood remains a target of the antiabortion movement.

• Even if they were selling baby parts, 3% of all Planned Parenthood’s activities are related to abortions…

So, oh, poor, poor Planned Parenthood to be victims of this unjust attack from those rotten anti-humanist zealots! In reality, not so much. Even if we assume that 3% to be a proper statistic, what does it actually mean? Skeptics always like to point out when anti-vaxxers manipulate statistics to make things seem “small” (e.g. “Only 0.5% of infants will die of whooping cough.”) Can you imagine them nodding in acceptance of a doctor if “only 3%” of doctor’s recommendations were homeopathic?! Yet they don’t bother to unpack this Planned Parenthood talking point.

If you tallied up the total “services” Planned Parenthood completes annually, 3% of the total would be in the abortion category. That’s it. Simple services like pregnancy tests (11%) are tallied with equal weight as involved procedures like second trimester abortions. Most STD and pregnancy testing requires little more than a blood draw or urine sample, but surgical abortion requires anesthesia, medication, post-operative surveillance, human tissue disposal (both maternal and fetal), etc. So while 3% of the health services tally may be abortion, it is not just 3% of the revenue or time. Far, far from it.

The “skeptics” would know what a red herring that 3% talking point is if they had, I don’t know, maybe watched the videos before they started pontificating out of their behinds. Dr. Nucatola says:

I’m telling you, Family Planning Associates, they may go for the money. Private providers, they are definitely private clinics…. In most markets, their volume’s not going to compare to Planned Parenthood’s volume. We have 40% of the [abortion] market in the whole country. (1:05:12)

Planned Parenthood knows they’re the largest abortion provider in the United States. That’s a selling point for a procurement company to work with Planned Parenthood. That’s why California Planned Parenthoods are “saturated” with partnering agreements. But, no, let’s make it seem like the prolifers are bat crap crazy for “attacking” Planned Parenthood by focusing on a manipulative statistic.

… and a pinch of bad science
I, honestly, didn’t think that I would be finding blatantly false science in these posts. But, then again, sloppy science will inevitably follow when you have an ideology to maintain. Watson seems to have confused being a smart aleck with being smart and accurate. While she can muster a heaping helping of snark for the inaccuracies of some prolifers, she says:

And, of all the abortions they do, about 90% of them happen around the first trimester when the fetus is approximately the size of a kidney bean. So nobody is looking at that tiny kidney bean and saying, “Let’s dice that up and sell its parts for money.”

To ironically quote her, “that should be enough to convince you that holy [expletive], we need better sex education everyone.”

Now, before I discuss those inaccuracies, I will state upfront that I wholly reject the notion that a person’s size, development, dependency, disability, utility, or any other qualifier can arbitrarily set a point where someone ceases to be or becomes human. But, since Watson obviously does, she should at least have her facts in order.

A developing human in the 10th week GA.
A developing human in the 10th week GA.
Here is the partial truth: About 90% of abortions happen in the first trimester. True. That is a national statistic, so I can’t say that it is true for Planned Parenthood, per se, but we’ll roll with it. But, as anyone who has ever been pregnant knows (and I have been 4 times) babies are not just a “tiny kidney bean” during the first trimester. Their crown-to-rump length (CRL) is only ½” and lower prior to 9 weeks from LMP. For those who are unaware, the gestational age of a pregnancy is based on the woman’s last menstrual period (LMP) so conception takes place as the start of the third week of pregnancy. The post-ovulation age that is used in more technical sources will be labeled 2 weeks less than the more colloquially used gestational age (GA) and represents actual time-in-existence. Even prior to 9 weeks GA, the “kidney bean” is surprisingly advanced from a blob of miscellaneous “tissue.” Beating heart, brain, arms, legs— all there.

Technically, though, that’s not a fetus. A developing human is only a fetus 8 weeks post-ovulation (10 weeks pregnant) when the embryonic stage of development ends. So, yes, no one is collecting fetal tissue from a “kidney bean”, not only because often those abortions will be medical where there is no tissue collection to begin with, but because it’s a scientifically incoherent proposition.

My daughter sucking her thumb at 13 weeks 0 days.
My daughter sucking her thumb at 13 weeks 0 days.
But what about the other weeks that make up the first trimester? By 9 weeks, all of the baby’s essential organs have begun to grow and he has detectable brain wave activity. In the 10th week, the baby is swallowing fluid. By the end of the first trimester, the baby has unique fingerprints. She hiccups and sucks her thumb and is unmistakably human in appearance. No longer a “kidney bean”, she’s closer to 3 inches in length. And, of course, the fetus only becomes larger and more “usable” in the second trimester in the event of abortion, which happens on a regular basis at Planned Parenthoods. (Dr. Nucatola estimates PP-Los Angeles at 3,000 second trimester abortions annually (p.26). Dr. Gatter says PP-Pasedena will perform 60 (p.11). Later, we learn from Dr. Savita Ginde that PP-Rocky Mountains has one or two every day (p.27))

Watson would know that Planned Parenthood isn’t dealing with some mass of indeterminate “tissue” with the abortions in question— that biotech companies are looking for and successfully acquire specific “parts”— if she had watched even the edited video with Nucatola:

[We’ve] been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.

Yes, Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts, you ****ing idiots.

My son in the second trimester at 18 weeks.
My son in the second trimester at 18 weeks.
Planned Parenthood and its defenders can play a rhetorical game for public and legal relations (and to appease their consciences) but that is all it is: a rhetorical game. A game where you use euphemism and selective truth to make your “side” look good. Think about how they call it the “woman’s tissue.” Sure, you could argue that she owns the fetus as some kind of biological property or to distinguish it from someone else’s baby, but the tissue is that of her fetus, her baby, a diploid genetic code distinct from her own. And the “tissue” that is procured comes in the form of discrete organs, discrete parts. No one says to an expectant mother, “Let’s see if we can hear your fetus’ tissue beat.” No expectant father goes to his parents saying, “Look, Mom, you can see the tissue on the ultrasound!” No. We all refer to it as a baby. When we see all those little body parts on the ultrasound— heart, head, arms, feet— we can’t wait to show people our baby. So, yes, the commodities in question are baby parts.
18wk Foot
And, yes, they are selling these parts. Honestly, I went into this thinking that this part was spin, and with lesser points, yes, there is some spin. But, taking the Planned Parenthood footage in totality, this is a sale. This is especially apparent now with the footage of Dr. Savita Ginde (the abortionist who says, “It’s a baby” while poking at the dismembered body of a fetus she had just killed.) I’m not happy to see evil in others (1 Cor. 13:6) no matter what utility it might serve; I’m not happy to arrive at this conclusion.

In the first footage with Dr. Deborah Nucatola, she is very clear that she does not want Planned Parenthood affiliates to be seen as selling fetal tissue or seeing it as a revenue stream. It is also clear that she feels very altruistic about using the “waste” for research. There is no evidence in that video that she is some profit-driven demon feasting on the flesh of aborted babies. (In fact, the confluence of her humanity with casual, ghoulish barbarism was what had me most disturbed in that video… as in visceral, I-need-to-dull-this-with-alcohol-to-sleep disturbed.)

But, conceding that does not alter the ultimate assessment. What was discussed was a business transaction, a sale. The truth is, these people have only a vague notion of what the “compensation” is actually compensating, just that it needs to appear “reasonable and customary”. That’s why it’s so ridiculous for people to speculate, especially if they are not taking into account that Planned Parenthood is not the procurement company. And did you notice that one of these “experts” was Advanced Bioscience Resources, a fetal tissue procurement company? Did it ever occur to the “skeptics” that ABR is currently “compensating” abortion clinics like Planned Parenthood, probably at a similar rate, and to say otherwise would expose them to the legal ramifications of being a buyer in fetal tissue sales? Come on!

In these videos, they don’t know what their logistics are, who will be doing what, with what and whose staff, what space would be occupied and when. That’s what these meetings were discussing and “brainstorming”! And yet… there is already price tag.

A price tag that is “haggled” by Dr. Gatter (p. 9). That is not editorializing by CMP; it’s the only way a remotely objective reader can interpret it. She also very clearly understands that they’re haggling over usable, intact specimens, not hey-see-if-you-can-get-anything-but-you-might-not specimens:

Buyer: So I’d like to start at around $100.
Gatter: Okay. Now this is for tissue that you actually take, not just tissue that the person volunteers but you can’t find anything, right?
Buyer: Exactly. Exactly. What is, what we can use, what is intact.

This is more disturbingly true for Dr. Savita Ginde:

No, and the, I think a per-item thing works a little better, just because we can see how much we can get out of it. [Proceeds to talk about logistics of tools for procurement.]

And since Nucatola makes it clear that Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) has “no guidelines… nothing in stone” regarding affiliate “compensation” (p. 47) and given the subjective definition of what is “reasonable”, this could fly. (Obviously, it couldn’t really fly because it was a fake company, and there could— and should— be ramifications for signing a partnering contract under false pretenses.)

Then, factor in that every Planned Parenthood representative said they were open to violating the informed consent of the patient (whether you think that consent is silly isn’t really the point) by expressing willingness to modify the abortion procedure for the purpose of tissue procurement:

• With that said, if you maintain enough of a dialogue with the person who’s actually doing the procedure, so they understand what the end-game is, there are little things, changes they can make in their technique to increase your success. — Nucatola p. 36

• [If] our usual technique is suction, at 10 to 12 weeks, and we switch to using an IPAS or something with less suction, and increase the odds that it will come out as an intact specimen, then we’re kind of violating the protocol that says to the patient, “We’re not doing anything different in our care of you.” Now to me, that’s kind of a specious little argument and I wouldn’t object to asking Ian, who’s our surgeon who does the cases, to use an IPAS at that gestational age in order to increase the odds that he’s going to get an intact specimen, but I do need to throw it out there as a concern. —Gatter p. 26

• We have to kind of see the baseline of how things are getting extracted now and see if we can do any work with them to maybe be more gentle.— Ginde p. 14

Now, I can take Nucatola and Gatter at their word that they aren’t in this for the money and still call this a sale. I can take Dr. Paul Offit at his word that he didn’t go into vaccine research for the money, and still call the money exchanged for his share of the rotavirus patent a sale. Even if Planned Parenthood were to come back with what is essentially the no-kidding production cost, they’re still selling the fetal tissue to companies who are acting as fetal tissue wholesalers. The intentions of the people are pretty gosh darn irrelevant to the fact that a commodity is being exchanged for money, companies are making money, and people are getting paid.

Cecile Richards, President of PPFA, apologizing for the “tone” of Dr. Nucatola’s remarks.
Speaking of getting paid, I wonder if the “skeptics” ever question that there might be a financial stake for people like Cecile Richards, President of PPFA, when they parrot her talking points that the video is “highly edited”, the claims are “outrageous,” and that Planned Parenthood does not profit “in any way” from fetal tissue donation. (How you can call Nucatola’s suggestion of offering “services in kind” (p. 23), which would reduce PP’s operating costs, thus increasing net revenue not profiting “in any way” is a bit of a puzzlement to me, but I digress.) You know, legitimate conflict-of-interest in divulging the whole truth? It doesn’t shock me, but it might shock the Planned Parenthood apologists who’ve bought the romanticized talking points to know that Cecile Richards makes well over $500,000— well over half a million dollars— in executive compensation, over 4x the median compensation for nonprofit CEOs Do you really think she could live such a cushy lifestyle… er… be so “compensated” if something threatened to remove over half a billion dollars in federal funding?

Truly, I have no problem with people making money. When accomplished in a just way, it can be a societal good, not just a good for the individual. But, please, when people’s livelihoods are on the line— particularly a very privileged livelihood like that of a Planned Parenthood executive or the organization’s $127 million in excess revenue over expenses—would it be too much to ask the “skeptics” to display a shred of the skepticism they have when it’s someone else’s livelihood?

Wherein I can’t even anymore…

At first, I thought it was hilarious that “skeptics” were simultaneously decrying and praising a blatant ends-justifying-the-means utilitarian ethic. Apparently, when it is prolifers trying to achieve their goals, it’s BAD:

• Even if you do believe abortion is a great evil, is it not also evil to misuse your scientific knowledge and credentials to spread a lie…. So willing is [Deisher] to spread it that she got into bed with activists willing to represent themselves as being part of a fake company…. —Orac

• And I realize, that if it helps you achieve your goals — whether they be persecuting people of a different faith or cutting funding for poor women’s health care — it becomes surprisingly easy to believe something unbelievable. —Watson

But, if it’s experimenting on human remains that were just going to go to “waste”, it’s praiseworthy, a horrible injustice to humanity to not make use of it. As Watson says:

How dare PP allow women to, instead of throwing something in the garbage, allowing scientists to use it and research it in order to help, I don’t know, cure HIV or Parkinson’s. How dare they use that garbage for the betterment of humanity!

But then, I went through it all— the videos, the transcripts, the footage. Every abominable minute of this macabre waltz through humanity blended with the most grotesque utilitarianism that is the pro-abortion ethic. And this is where I just can’t even anymore.

I’m looking from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again and seeing the same bloody thing: people completely uninterested in truths that may conflict with their deeply held beliefs. People completely uninterested in looking at and answering the hard challenges presented by logic or science to their arguments.

I get it; blind adherence sure is easier. It’s a lot easier to rationalize your beliefs— the banality of preventable disease, the necessity of torture, the “good” of abortion— if you don’t have to look them in the face. It’s easier to rationalize stripping away the humanity from a person and turning him into an object, an animal, a conglomeration of tissue when you refuse to see the humanity staring you in the face.

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you...
Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you…

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